By Martha J. Gehringer
Dr. LeRoy Brendlinger's new autobiography, "From Swamp to Blue Bell," details his life from its beginnings in Frederick, PA, to his experiences in World War II, to his teaching career, which began in a one-room school house and led him to establish one of Pennsylvania's first community colleges, Montgomery County Community College.
Brendlinger was born on a dairy farm in Frederick, the second of three children, to Claude and Elsa Brendlinger. He decided to pursue a career in teaching early in his life.
"I decided to become a teacher because I had an excellent teacher when I was in school at New Hanover Township," he said.
However, the war interrupted his plans, and Brendlinger spent four years serving in the U.S. Army, receiving his officer's commission in Aberdeen, MD. He attained the rank of First Lieutenant prior to being sent overseas to Greenland, and then Belgium.
"It was my responsibility to direct the tanks from Belgium to the front lines. I'll never forget how we could barely drive in Belgium," Brendlinger said, noting that the streets were slightly wider than the tanks. "But we got through and didn't hit anything."
After returning from the war in 1942, Brendlinger started teaching eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Swamp. He then taught elementary school in East Greenville before moving to Blackhorse School in Plymouth Township, where he became the building principal. It was here that he started pondering feasible avenues to higher education for students who didn't meet the requirements for admission to traditional colleges.
"From my experience in education, I knew there were a number of students who didn't meet the requirements of traditional colleges," Brendlinger said. The community college could meet the needs of these students. But there were no community colleges in Pennsylvania at the time.
"The concept was available for evaluation in other parts of the country," he said. "I had to introduce the concept of community college."
For two years, starting in 1966, Brendlinger worked on convincing Montgomery County commissioners of the value of the community college program. He took the commissioners to Baltimore County, MD to witness the role a community college could play. He then had to convince them to fund the concept.
Recruiting the support - financial and verbal - of the commissioners was just one step. Brendlinger also had to get approval from the state and work through many other potential stumbling blocks. "It took a lot of patience and persistence," he said.
After the commissioners gave the approval, Brendlinger had to find an appropriate location for the college, hire staff ranging from janitors to faculty, and hire the architect for the site in Blue Bell. He was able to recruit 17 faculty members who took a leap of faith to the community college concept.
Finally, two years later, in 1966, Montgomery County Community College became one of the first of its kind in Pennsylvania when it opened its temporary facilities in Conshohocken. Four-hundred students enrolled the first year.
The college later relocated to Blue Bell. "It was more appropriate to locate the college in the center of the county," Brendlinger said.
Brendlinger also served on the advisory board when Montgomery County Community College opened its West Campus in Pottstown in 2000. Between the two campuses, the college now has 11,000 students enrolled.
While he is retired, Brendlinger maintains an office in the Brendlinger Library, located in Blue Bell.
Copies of the book are available for $34.95, which includes shipping and handling, from Ronald Sekellick, P.O. Box 36, Frederick, PA 19435. Checks should be made payable to LeRoy Brendlinger.